Forgetting to Use Birth Control: Unwanted Pregnancies Support Evolutionary Psychology Theory
Eisenman, Russell, Journal of Evolutionary Psychology
An important area for study is ovulation (Atwood, James, Keil, Roberts, & Hartmann, P.E. 1991; Biel-Casals, 1968; Chearskul & Visutakul, 1994; Freundl, Bremme, Frank-Hermann, Baur, Godehardt, & Sottong, 1996), including female sexual desire, which appears to be highest during ovulation (Alcock, 1989; Stanislaw & Rice, 1988). As I got interested in this area, I started looking at introductory psychology textbooks to see what they say about ovulation, since it plays such an important part in female sexuality. However, I found that most of the ones I examined do not even mention ovulation. If it is covered at all, it is just briefly mentioned as part of how conception occurs. But, ovulation may have powerful effects on female sexual behavior. For example, in the present study, there is evidence that women often "forgot" to use birth control during ovulation. I believe this is an unconscious motivation to get pregnant, and thus continue the human race, and to send her genes into future generations. Much of what occurs in human sexuality seems to be unconscious (Eisenman, 2001). But, this is not widely accepted, perhaps because there has been such a moving away from Freud, who is most associated with the concept of the unconscious. Of course, to accept that unconscious things occur, one does not have to buy into Freud or psychoanalysis, but simply believe that things happen without awareness.
The unconscious would seem to be behind the theory of evolutionary psychology, in which people do things for the purpose of spreading their genes into future generations. They may not realize why they do it, but research in cultures around the world show that sexual and other behavior seems to follow the patterns described by evolutionary psychologists, such as Buss, who shows, for example, sex differences in what men and women want (Buss, 1999). Men should want to impregnate as many women as possible, as this would be the best way to spread their genes into future generations. Since women get pregnant, this strategy would not work for them, so they tend to desire men who have money, power and status, and will invest in them and their children. Men tend to desire youth, beauty, and health in their female sexual partners, according to evolutionary psychology. As I said, these findings hold up in different cultures across the world. But, there is also the unconscious aspect, since man's desire to spread his genes is shown in his desire for many female partners, but not necessarily in actually impregnating many women. In fact, a man may use birth control to try to prevent pregnancy.
Grammer found that the closer women in bars were to ovulation, the skimpier the clothing they wore (Grammer, 1996). This would fit again with an explanation about unconscious desire to become pregnant and spread genes to future generations. It is of interest to note that the skimpy dress is a sexual signal sent to men, that indicates the woman's receptiveness to sexual intercourse. She may not even realize she is sending this signal, so, again, it is an unconscious signal. I think the concept of the unconscious is important, but many in evolutionary psychology and other fields avoid it, perhaps because of Freud's usage in his psychoanalytic theory, which they reject. However, if one does not like the word "unconscious" one could use "unaware" or some other term, which indicates that the person does not know why they do something.
Human females can be receptive to sexual intercourse at all phases of their menstrual cycle, but desire increases at ovulation (Alcock, 1989; Stanislaw & Rice, 1988). Further, when women have sexual affairs with someone other than the husband or boyfriend, the affair often occurs during ovulation, the woman and her partner typically use no birth control, and the partner chosen by the woman has some quality that the husband/boyfriend lacks (Baker & Bellis, 1993; Bellis & Baker, 1990). Thus, if the husband is attractive but not intelligent, the woman is likely to have an affair with an intelligent man. Not using birth control increases the likelihood of pregnancy, and thus increases the quality of her gene pool, since she now combines her genes with that of an intelligent man, whereas previously she combined her genes with that of an attractive man. Therefore, ovulation would seem to have powerful effects on the woman and on her sexual behavior. It needs to be given much more consideration that it has typically received. And, it is evolutionary psychology findings that make us appreciate the importance of ovulation, beyond simply being an important part of conception.
To study pregnancy occurring during ovulation, it was decided that the surest way was to study unplanned pregnancies, along with planned ones. A staple of 110 women in a midsize city was interviewed about their last pregnancy. The sample ranged in age from 18-49 years old, with a median age of 37. They were told that the research was being done as part of a university study of pregnancies. No further information was given until after the study was completed and all data collected. The women were chosen quasi-randomly from the city phone book or from phone books at hospitals in the area, by choosing every 5th name from the top and from the bottom of each page, in the city phone directory or the hospital phone directory, and were interviewed at their work or home by the author or by trained assistants. Six of the 110 interviews provided too little information, such as a woman saying too often "I don't remember." Thus, a total of 104 usable interviews were obtained. Due to the sampling, a large number of nurses or student nurses, 54, were included. Participants were asked about their last pregnancy, and whether or not birth control had been used. They were also asked if they intended to use birth control but had forgotten to do so, since pilot work had shown many cases of this.
There were no statistically significant differences between the 54 nurses or student nurses and the other 50 participants, so the data has been combined for all 104 women.
The results for the 104 women were categorized into the categories of "Forgot to use birth control," "On purpose did not use birth control," or "Used birth control but it did not work to prevent pregnancy." Table 1 shows the findings, which yields a chi square of 13.59, df=2, p<.01, indicating that the frequencies are not the same for the different categories.
The results showed that 32 women said that their last pregnancy had occurred because they had forgotten to use birth control. On purpose, 51 women had not used birth control, and 21 women had used birth control but reported that it did not work, i. e., they got pregnant anyway.
Perhaps the moat amazing part of the findings is that about one-third of the sample "forgot" to use birth control One wonders if this is motivated forgetting, in that ovulation caused them, in some way, to want to become pregnant. Although that cannot be proved with the present data, it is certainly something worthy of further investigation. Could it be that, at ovulation, one's physiology and brain chemistry sabotage the desire to avoid pregnancy?
Also, if we can believe these retrospective reports, birth control often fails. It could be that the birth control device--condom, IUD, vaginal foam, etc.--is ineffective, or it could be that the user did not use it properly. In either case, the fact that birth control was used but did not work for 21 of 104 women shows that we need either better technology in the development of birth control devices, or better education of users. Probably, both are needed.
The results would seem to be consistent with evolutionary psychology theory. In an attempt to spread one's genes into future generations, we can speculate that women are motivated to become pregnant during the time of ovulation. Thus, there would be a high percentage of ovulating women who "forget" to use birth control. Actually, quotations are not necessarily needed. The bottom line is that ovulation may induce many women to do what they can to become pregnant, even if the woman does not think she wants to become pregnant.
While the data seem consistent with an evolutionary psychology explanation, one could reject that theory and still find the data here of use. Many women seem to forget to use birth control, and many times the birth control devices prove ineffective. These are realities that need further investigating. There are some important policy implications. Perhaps education programs could be set up that show men and women how to use birth control devices properly, and also motivate them to use them on a regular basis. Also, research could be conducted into the effect of the woman's partner on her use of birth control. Surely the partner must, at times, have some say in whether or not birth control is employed. And, finally, there seems to be too much failure of birth control devices, according to the data in the present study. At a time when we are trying to fight AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases by encouraging people to use latex condoms, we certainly need for birth control aids to be effective. So, technologically speaking, we need better design of birth control, in order to lower or prevent the rate of failure in these devices.
Table 1 Number of Women Using or Not Using Birth Control Devices by Category of Women's Choices Forgot to Use On Purpose Did Not Use Used but Did Not Work 32 51 21 Note: Chi Square=13.59, df=2, p<.01.
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Russell Eisenman, Ph.D. Department of Psychology University of Texas-Pan American Edinburg, TX 78539-2999 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org…
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Publication information: Article title: Forgetting to Use Birth Control: Unwanted Pregnancies Support Evolutionary Psychology Theory. Contributors: Eisenman, Russell - Author. Journal title: Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Publication date: March 2003. Page number: 30+. © 2006 Institute for Evolutionary Psychology. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.